Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"You've Had Your Six!"

I think I’m done with FlashForward. It started with a really intriguing idea but, a half–dozen episodes in, it just seemed that the central premise was gradually being frittered away with each successive week, leaving a confused narrative going around in circles and chasing its own tail.

It’s a crying shame really because I love a good thriller that’ll keep me on my toes, and the more labyrinthine the better. But by the end of this week’s episode the show was descending into the realms of soap opera and even farce. While a few story crumbs have been tossed toward the plodding FBI investigation there never seemed to be enough happening to keep any kind of real momentum going.

The reason it hasn’t got off the ground is that for almost all these first six episodes – which is already the first quarter of the season – it felt like the writers had repeatedly got into a huddle to argue whether the far too broad selection of onscreen characters would believe in their visions or not and that carried across into the scripts. It felt strange that whereas it’s usually the audience who decides whether they are willing to suspend their disbelief or not, in this instance it seemed to be the programme makers having the doubts.

While they noodled around, weighing up the pros and cons rather than just getting on with telling the story, the relative inactivity leaves the audience with time on their hands for second thoughts. I quite liked the idea of the FBI guy appearing a little tired and emotional in his vision. Having the ex-booze hound back on the sauce helped make him an unreliable witness to the future events. But the more they kept banging on about it the more suspect it became.

Was it the babysitter who was being drowned by some bruiser in her vision? When she came to in the pilot episode I don’t remember her immediately struggling and gasping for breath, which suggests that for those couple of minutes she saw the future rather than experienced it. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it mean that even if the FBI man was in his cups in the future he would still be sober when he had the flash forward and therefore shouldn’t have a problem remembering it?

Either way I don’t really care anymore, but it was the failure to get the story moving that led me to dwell on what little information there was and scrutinize it for any potential flaws. That shouldn't even have been an issue, but as I’ve said earlier, I still think the major fault with FlashFoward was that it began with too much bash and crash and smash, spreading out amongst far too many characters too soon, rather than make some effort to start establishing the key players.

So there it is, FlashForward has had its six and that’s it for me. You have to figure something had gone horribly awry when the most entertaining scene so far involved a karaoke version of Sister Christian, while the most ludicrous was the underground garage shoot–out that took place almost immediately afterwards. With that sort of juxtaposition you can’t exactly accuse FlashForward of lacking in imagination. It’s a shame then that so far the show’s failing is that it simply lacks vision.


At 1:06 pm, Blogger laurence timms said...

I fell asleep halfway through episode 2 and never woke up again (figuratively speaking).

I was kind of worried I was missing something good. Looks like I wasn't.

At 8:02 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

Dr No.

Thank you for that moment of stupid pleasure.

At 10:35 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Oh, you’re welcome. I’m all for moments of stupid pleasure. I was watching Dr No again on Sunday afternoon and it still is the business. Although I suppose I should have had a Mojito in a highball glass rather than cocoa in a large Winnie the Pooh mug, but that’s November for you.


I can’t even remember what went on in the second episode. I suspect they were still weighing up the pros and cons of the visions everyone had. Or something.

It could be good. It may turn out to be very good. But I simply didn’t connect with it. I still think the problem lay in having everything thrown up on screen almost immediately in the pilot: Too many people, too many problems, and no clear direction of where to go.

A couple of evenings back I dug out the two–part pilot of Lost to see how JJ Abrams & Damon Lindelof structured the story. Everyone remembers the plane wreckage on the beach but it was interesting to be reminded on how they introduced each character. First you had Jack, on his back in the jungle for the first couple of minutes. When he gets to the beach we stay with him all through the first act. Although we see some of the other characters, they aren’t hurled straight at us. I was actually surprised to see that Kate, Sawyer and John Locke were pretty much the last of the main regulars to be introduced.

I remember with NYPD Blue, the first couple episodes were about establishing the working relationship between Kelly and Sipowicz before they gradually brought in the rest of the squad. Both ER and Homicide went the rookie route, introducing the audience to the characters and situations through the eyes of John Carter and Tim Bayliss.

I still think FlashForward would have been better if, during the pilot episode, the big event that makes everyone conk out for a couple minutes had been pushed back to the end of the second or third act to allow more time to establish the leads. It still astonished me that after the six episodes I still couldn’t name any of the characters.

In fact in the last episode they kept calling out the name of one character that had been shot. I was thinking, ah, that’s her name! Then ten minutes later I’d forgotten it again. Having not suffered a major head trauma recently, I couldn’t understand why I could never remember what any of them were called. I can only assume that I couldn’t get a handle on who any of them were due to the fact that the characters had been so badly introduced. Not one name registered.

I suppose it didn’t help that Five broadcast the pilot opposite the final episode of Waking the Dead. Then there was Criminal Justice and then the natural history series Life or, in the case of the past Monday, the BBC/HBO drama Into The Storm. So I never saw any episodes of FlashForward on the day they were first transmitted here, instead catching one of the repeats on Five or Fiver whenever they popped up later in the week.

If I was really enthusiastic about the show I’m sure I would have seen it straight off the bat. That’s rather disappointing because I was really looking forward to it.

At 11:23 pm, Blogger laurence timms said...

Too many characters too soon, no emotional investment in any of them. Yeah, that's pretty much it and to be honest I hadn't twigged it.

I dunno. FF just seems like genre by the numbers. Like everyone on the production team was looking for the ring-binder titled "How To Make Big US Drama Shows"

The weirdest thing for me was watching the structure and beats of FF episode 1 and realising that they were bloody well identical to the ep 1 script of a big supernatural drama that I'm co-writing with Paul McIntyre. So much so that we were emailing one another 15 minutes into the show, gobsmacked. Did they copy us? Did we copy them? Shit!

So of course we changed our script. In doing so, I think we've improved it. Now, the critical event that affects our hero actually comes right at the end of act 3, ep 1. The entire 60 minutes builds up to it. Lots of questions get posed. Some get answered. Some answers lead to more questions. Some story threads start and finish within the 60. Some are merely buds. But it's all in there.

It's scary in some ways to spend so much time building up to a big turning event, but I think the way we feed in the characters and the way we paint them into the story is going to result in a much greater emotional investment on the part of the viewer.

Ha, well, if it ever gets made to be viewed :)

At 1:29 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

No emotional investment in any of the characters. Exactly! That was the phrase I was looking for. (I’ve gone without a gasper for the last four days and the only sign of withdrawal is it fogs my brain up, hence the relatively short post).

I’m not sure that FlashForward was exactly genre by the numbers. I haven’t read the book and haven’t read anything about the book in case it would spoil what was to come. The biggest hurdle for the show’s writers and producers, I guess, was to take this wild concept and make it accessible for their prospective audience. Maybe it would have helped to have a two-hour pilot for something this huge so audience could have got to know everyone better before it all kicked off.

To grab everyone’s attention immediately, new shows have to take the “kick, bollock, scramble” approach. There seems to be no time for a slow build-up anymore. I can understand the pilot having it’s own flash forward, making the teaser a real teaser – which the likes of Alias regularly employed before jumping back to a point 24, 36, or 72 hours earlier, so we knew where the story was going but not how it was going to get there – but it needed just one or two characters to guide the audience through the events and then gradually introduce the rest.

As worrying as the similarities were, I think you and Mr McIntyre should take that as a compliment. It shows you’re on the right track in terms of plotting and structuring a drama. Very good luck with it!


Post a Comment

<< Home